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Another Phase of Mountain Thin Project
By Will Duggan, Mt. Shasta Herald
April 2, 2008

Mountain Thin Logging
High tech cranes speed the process of cutting and stacking logs as another section of the Mountain Thin project nears completion.

Landing in the midst of a 330 acre section of the Mountain Thin project a few miles above the Mount Shasta city limits, three high tech cranes and their operators measure, cut, delimb and stack hundreds of logs in a matter of hours that would take several logging crews weeks to do by hand.

“We've made a lot of progress through the winter,” said US Forest Service district ranger Mike Hupp. “Thinning reduces the potential for a catastrophic fire by removing some of the smaller and less healthy trees that are too close together. In taking out the fuel and excess growth it makes the forest healthier and the town safer. Hopefully this phase of the 3,200 acre project will be finished in a few more weeks.”

According to prevailing forestry management theory and practice, thinning is the most effective way to ensure the overall health of the forest. Instead of taking a chance on a fire moving through an area to reduce the amount of fuel and take out weak or diseased trees, thinning does the job by mimicking the natural process in a controlled method.

The Mountain Thin project is intended to create a defensible fire zone when finished.

Some take exception to that theory, including local USFS retiree Charles McDonald.

“I'm concerned that the thinning process could have an adverse effect,” McDonald said in a recent phone interview. “Opening the forest up through thinning creates hotter and drier conditions, which some studies have shown can lead to more fires. It's a tough call as to what to do sometimes. Unfortunately we just don't have all the answers for every set of conditions. Global warming is also complicating the situation.”

During the years it was being planned, Mountain Thin was at times a subject of controversy in the community.

Some people said it is just another form of logging, and in 2004 concerns were expressed by the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center and the Klamath Forest Alliance appeal asking that the thinning process consider more of the wildlife and scenic aspects into the overall plan. The appeal also requested that 60 percent of the crown canopy be left intact along with snag habitat, large logs and downed woody debris.

In a subsequent finding issued by the Forest Service it was stated that although there may be an effect due to the thinning, it will not be adverse to nesting or roosting habitat in the long run. The finding also disclosed that the project would actually promote and result in the development of successional forest growth and habitat.

At that time, in 2004, Hupp said, “The project would provide protection from catastrophic fires and enhance watershed and wildlife values. It protects recreational resources, the bike trails, and in the process provides wood products used to build homes and generate electricity.”

Asked for his opinion of the work now being done on Mountain Thin, bike riding enthusiast Sig Orwig said last week that he is satisfied the Forest Service has heard the concerns of bike riders, and some other trail users said they agree.

“They did a great job working around the tunnel trails during the thinning process,” Orwig said. “They took extra measures not to damage the trail system and we appreciate the effort they made. And knowing that the fire danger has been reduced is a huge factor that will allow for greater enjoyment of the area.”

The area being thinned is expected to be ready for hiking and mountain biking by the end of April. The trails were marked before the thinning process began and are in reasonably good shape.

Tim Ferreira of Timberland Logging of Ashland, Ore., the company that is performing the thinning work under contract with the Forest Service, said last week, “Doing nothing is not a viable option when you look at what could be jeopardized or lost. The fuel buildup can be tremendous. And if there ever is a fire it could be disastrous. Thinning accelerates the natural process by removing the smaller and weaker trees, which in turn makes room for the healthier trees to grow unimpeded.”

Hupp said, “We're right on task and should be done with this phase of removing potential fire fuel just like we planned. It's really gone well. The company that we're working with has done everything according to the contract. Now we have a defensible zone in the event of a fire on the east side of Mount Shasta.”

“It's an energetic equation that changes from year to year depending on snow pack, blow down, growth cycles and weather conditions. Most of the trees that are being thinned are between 30 and 50 years old. If dead and dying trees are allowed to accumulate along with the woody biomass of pine needles we could be dealing with an inferno in the event of a fire. The energy has to go somewhere. If it goes up in smoke and into the atmosphere we all lose. It benefits us to maintain a balanced action plan based on a realistic perspective,” Hupp continued.

“All things considered, we are doing what's best under the circumstances,” said Ferreira. “Forests play a prominent role in the global carbon cycle. By opening the area up through the process of thinning a stronger stand of trees is able to develop. There's more room for the remaining trees to mature without having to compete for nutrients and sunlight. In thinning we also encourage greater biodiversity over time.”

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